Set Your Feet Free

Ok, a lot of you asked about my “weird” “strange” “ugly” “funky” shoes when I blogged about running the half-marathon with Leah, Lucy, Aaron and friends back in April. Here’s the inside scoop on running “barefoot.” You can also see this article posted on Athleta.com

Set Your Feet Free

I started running “barefoot” last October after reading the book “Born To Run” by journalist and ultra-marathon runner Christopher McDougall. The book is a great read and I was a fan after reading it but THEN I sent Chris some questions and he actually wrote me back, so now I’m a fan for life! As I was saying… in the book he talks about, among many interesting things, a study that showed the correlation between the price of your running shoes and injuries is this— the more expensive the shoe the higher rate of injury. This concerned me because I have been running in high-end shoes for years now. My shoes have a price tag of $174.00. I have survived… but my last few races I did say, “Hello” to my left knee and noticed my achilles was acting up. I wondered if my racing days were coming to a quick close. I figured it wouldn’t hurt to leave the pricey shoes in my closet and pick up a pair of $80 Vibram FiveFingers.

I was thrilled to see Suzie Cooney’s Athleta Chi article, “Born Free: Barefoot Running” because Suzie did a great job of explaining the mechanics behind running barefoot and she shared credible references. I am more of the grab a pair, put them on and go kind of girl. I did just that.

I put on my Vibram FiveFingers in October. I knew I wasn’t supposed to just take off running vast mileage so I wore the shoes around town and to the gym, at the airport and the grocery store.

In December I was corralled waiting for the start of the Las Vegas Rock & Roll Half-Marathon and I noticed a man wearing FiveFingers! I wanted to ask him about them and how he got up to training for his half marathon in them, but I didn’t say anything to him. (Silly me) I was running in my high-end shoes because I knew that I hadn’t built up enough “barefoot” miles.

In April I ran the 2010 Salt Lake City Half-Marathon “barefoot.” I was running the race with my husband, Aaron, my thirteen-year-old daughter Leah, while pushing my ten-year-old daughter Lucy in a jog stroller and that combination took most of my attention.

It was only around mile 10 that I even remembered that I was running the race “barefoot” and smiled that something that had seemed like such a big deal only four months back had almost gone unnoticed.

Here is how I conditioned my feet for the race.

Like I said, I wore my Five Fingers around town and to the gym for my workouts. I was doing 20 minutes of cardio three days a week. My feet held up great.

When you start wearing them, you will notice changes in your gait. You just can’t comfortably run heel-to-toe in a shoe that was not created to force that movement. Think about a child, they don’t run heel-to-toe. Take off your shoes and sprint on the grass. You probably won’t run heel-to-toe either. Your feet will stretch and feel the ground beneath them. Your toes will spread out and actively participate in your run.

Get comfortable with your new gait and then start adding time and miles. One of the first things I noticed was that my calves hit a new burn level. Living in Utah, I waited until enough snow had melted before I transitioned my training from the treadmill to the streets, my calves were on fire again. I run “barefoot” in the rain, but the snow is just too cold. Running in the rain is great especially when you circle back around to look at your cute footprints.

Listen to your body and listen to your feet. If your feet are slapping the ground and making a lot of noise, you might be tired. Slow down or walk. I love running in the grass and on trails and I think it’s kinder and easier on your feet. If you think about it concrete and pavement weren’t created with barefoot running in mind… at all.

For snowy days I have picked up a pair of Nike Free 5.0. These shoes are Nike’s answer to the minimalist’s shoe.

The following is the three-day per week half-marathon training I followed while also conditioning my feet for the “barefoot” run. This is a great beginner half-marathon training program modified by our trainer Kasey Payzant. This is the schedule she uses to train children and teens and the rest of us who don’t have the time to get four runs in each week. If you are not yet up to running 3 miles you can add 2-3 weeks to the top of this training. You may want to start with 1 mile, 1 mile, 2 miles the first week. Followed by 1.5 miles, 1.5 miles, 2 miles the next week and continue with 2 miles, 2 miles, 3 miles the following week, then follow the program below. If you are training for your first half-marathon, barefoot or soled, choose your race and get your calendar out. Work backwards from the race day week by week. You do not want to finish your training without a race to run. Similarly, you probably wont finish your training if you haven’t actually registered for your half-marathon. Don’t give yourself an out.

Barefoot Running: running with nothing on your feet.
“Barefoot” Running: running with minimal foot protection.

Your Bike Is Calling Your Name

Your Bike Is Calling Your Name…
(and it wants you to ride 100 miles)
Originally posted on Athleta’s Chi Blog

You know the bike that’s in your garage? Yeah, you know the one. It’s the one that’s hanging upside down and taunting you every time you park your vehicle. Well, it’s summer and it’s time to dust that bike off. It’s time to sit down and RIDE!

I know the concerns you have because I have them too. I got my very first road bike for my birthday last October and it promptly snowed. Was I secretly thankful? Maybe. All winter my bike was there reminding me that when it finally did warm up I was likely to be flat on my back at the first stop if I forgot about those clipless pedals. It was reminding me that either the right brake or the left brake was the better one to use on a steep downhill grade. Which one was it though? How about those gears… all of them! Would I ever really figure them out? Let’s not forget traffic! Yikes! Vehicles zooming by and I don’t know the hand signals and what if drivers are texting and never even see me until…

Yes. There are a lot of “what ifs.”

There are also just as many “so whats!”

I would never figure it out if I never got on my bike. The same goes for you.

So here it is… an invitation from your two-wheeled friend.

Find A Buddy
I started talking about wanting to ride my new bike and suddenly I found a lot of people who were also putting off riding. My neighbor Krista hadn’t been on her bike in two years. She was happy to get back on and show me the ropes and I wasn’t too concerned about my complete rookie-ness holding her back. She mapped out a 13-mile ride, which seemed reasonable.

Ride Your Bike
Guess what? Riding 13 miles was much easier than running 13 miles. Even my heart rate monitor agreed. I was impressed by the amazing efficiency of this machine!

Register for an Event
The following week Krista and I scheduled a 26-mile ride, a good distance since I have a triathlon coming up in July with a 26-mile cycling portion. Yes, I registered for a triathlon when I had not yet been on my road bike. Talk about motivation to get cycling. Registering for an event will get you on your bike.

Register for Another Event That Makes A Difference
Later that week, while feeling especially optimistic, I registered for the MS 150, a two-day ride that benefits the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Only after registering did I learn that my team was not planning on riding 150 miles over two days, they were planning on 175 miles over two days (just breathe). Later that week our MS 150 team “Saddle Soar” knocked out a 36-mile ride. I was feeling pretty good, even though I still didn’t have the confidence to drink from my water bottle while actually in motion. When I forgot to start my heart rate monitor I didn’t dare attempt to push that tiny watch button while still cycling. I didn’t know how to change a flat. I was definitely the “weakest link” and I was pleasantly surprised at how supportive everyone was.

Participate in a Supported Ride
Having only three rides under my belt and the MS 150 coming up in a few weeks, I wanted to experience a supported ride and I didn’t have much time. Little Red Riding Hood, an all women ride, had come highly recommended and had been on my calendar, but registration had quickly closed at 3000 participants. Luckily, two days prior to the ride a registration ticket fell into my lap! This ticket was for 58 miles and that felt just about right for my fourth ride.

Ride With People Who Inspire/Push You
The night before Little Red Riding Hood my friend Stephanie said, “You know Rachel, if you can ride 36 miles you can ride 80.” I questioned this philosophy, but Stephanie, who has tackled a number of century rides (that’s 100 miles) and even took on LOTOJA (206 miles in one day), was adamant. “No really, if you can ride 36 miles you can ride 80.” Stephanie and her friend Judy were both planning on riding 80 miles and they were considering 100 miles.

“Ok, I’ll try for 80.” Mostly I didn’t want to commit because… well… what if something hurt… like REALLY hurt. My muscles might cramp up. I might crash. If everything went smoothly I would do 80 miles, and by “smoothly” I meant that I didn’t want to suffer through it and I wasn’t willing to hurt myself.

The weather was perfect. The ride was beautiful! Farmlands, rolling hills, snowcapped mountains, bright blue skies and white fluffy clouds were awe-inspiring. “Wow, this is beautiful! Wow!”

Around mile 56 I got a flat tire. There were plenty of volunteers in SAG wagons watching for this very thing. Within two minutes a red pick-up truck was by my side and a friendly volunteer changed my flat.

By the time I arrived at the place where the 80-mile and the 100-mile routes split some interesting logic had been going through my mind. Trust me, four hours on a bike allows for a lot of thinking time. 100 miles suddenly seemed reasonable! Why stop at 80 when I was only 20 miles away from completing my first century?

Somehow it seemed easier to just ride 100 today… and that’s what I did.

My fourth ride.
My first century!

I did not wake up on Saturday morning thinking that I was going to ride 100 miles that day. I can honestly say I couldn’t have done it… and sure wouldn’t have done it without Steph and Judy.

And guess what? I can now start my heart rate monitor while riding, though I still haven’t dared to drink from my water bottle without stopping first.

Can’t you just hear your bike calling your name?

For a list of Women-Only rides check out this article on Cycle & Style– an online cycling magazine for women.

Aaron and I are riding the MS150 in memory of his sweet cousin Kolleen.
To make a donation and sponsor me in the upcoming MS150 click here!
To make a donation and sponsor my cute husband Aaron in the MS150 click here!